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Cell division find prompts overhaul of immune response modeling
Date:7/21/2009

Research at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute into the mechanics of how two types of white blood cells grow and die is fundamentally changing the development of computer models that are used to predict how immune system cells respond to a pathogenic threat.

A team led by Professor Phil Hodgkin, head of the institute's Immunology Division, is investigating the proliferation and survival of T and B lymphocytes white blood cells that are crucial to the body's ability to generate immunity.

When lymphocytes are exposed to pathogens they are stimulated to undergo a series of cell divisions, which increases the number of lymphocytes many hundredfold. After a period the cells stop dividing and 95 per cent of the newly-generated cells die.

Professor Hodgkin said although there was considerable variation in the number of divisions cells went through before they died, existing computer models had been developed assuming all cells were mechanically identical. However, biologists have long been aware that cells never behave identically. This variation is usually dismissed as 'noise' or irrelevant biological variation.

"About 10 years ago I was struck by the thought that by ignoring the immense amount of variation in cells we might be missing something important," Professor Hodgkin said. "What if the variation is a design feature of the cells? What if they're doing it deliberately? My lab has been pursuing the implications of this idea ever since."

In an attempt to revamp computer models of the immune response to accommodate individual cells, Dr Edwin Hawkins, Dr John Markham and Mr Liam McGuinness at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, for the first time in science, followed hundreds of lymphocytes and their offspring through all their cell divisions until their deaths. They also recorded how this variation in lymphocyte behaviour was transmitted through cell generations.

The research has been published today in th
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Contact: Penny Fannin
fannin@wehi.edu.au
61-393-452-345
Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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